EUREKA – Over the past quarter-century, one of the most successful high school football programs in the state has been Wilmington.
Eureka got a taste of that in 2003 when they were blanked 42-0 on the road in the first round of three A playoffs. That Wildcats’ squad got all the way to the championship game, but lost 21-7 to Stillman Valley.
Sixteen years later, the Hornets (8-2) return to the Will County town to meet the 9-1 Wildcats. Kickoff for the round of 16 game is set for 5 p.m. Saturday from Becker Field, which is located at the middle school.
“Any time you run into a program that just reloads and rebuilds and I would call Wilmington a program, it’s a challenge,” said Hornets’ head coach Jason Bachman. “I’m not sure the kids completely understand what that means, but the coaches do.”
The Wildcats operate out of the double wing-T. They rushed for 258 yards in this past Friday’s 24-12 win over guest and Illinois Central Eight Conference rival Lisle. Senior fullback Jake Rodawold, who had 233 yards, has gained 1,478 on 155 carries and 20 touchdowns. He is averaging nine and a half yards per attempt. The two wingbacks are juniors Trey Shaw (664 yards) and Cody Franzen (318). The only Wildcat to reach the end zone in round one was senior quarterback Kenton Hopwood, who rushed for three TDs. They did not attempt a single pass over the entire 48 minutes.
The Wildcats are averaging nearly 318 yards rushing per contest. They have scored 367 points on the season with a high of 58 against Oak Lawn.
“To contain them is to swarm to the football and tackle,” detailed Bachman. “When he (Rodawold) gets most of his yards is after he bounces of the first tackle. (He’s) a very good player, a very hard runner. If we can get them into third-and-six, third-and-seven, third-and-eight, that will be to our advantage,”
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Rodawold (linebacker) leads a defense that has allowed 131 points and has shut out three foes. They operate out a 3-4 look.
“They tackle well. They’re linebackers are good,” Bachman pointed out. “I think we have to be able to take advantage of our athleticism. We gotta put our athletes out in space.”
The football complex is named after Wilmington head coach Jeff Reents, who is in his 26th season at the helm with a sparkling 231-60 record. He has led the program to 24 consecutive playoff appearances, which includes a three A title in ’14, a 20-17 victory over Williamsville in the championship game. Wilmington’s only loss this season came in week eight to ICEC champion, four A Coal City (10-0). The Wildcats were 6-4 last year, but they lost 14-10 in round one at Monmouth-Roseville. The ’03 game is only meeting between the Hornets and Wildcats.
Although Wilmington has quite the pregame festivities, Bachman does not envision his team being intimidated by it.
“None, not at all,” declared Bachman. “We probably will not be watching it. We do the same thing. We have smoke. They run out of a bunch of woods. We run out of our school. I do not see that out of this group.”
According to Bachman, linemen Thomas Cahill (back) and Jared Farney (ankle) played against Chicago Dunbar and will be ready for Saturday.
The winner advances to the quarterfinals with Byron (9-1) as the likely opponent.
Notes: The playing surface is named after Howard Becker, who directed the Wilmington program from 1965 to ’93 before he was succeeded by Reents. Becker led the Wildcats to an undefeated 9-0 campaign in ’73, one season before the playoffs started. He led Wilmington to the quarters in ’88. Free agent starting pitcher Tanner Roark, who has suited up in the big leagues for Washington, Cincinnati and Oakland, is a ’04 graduate who helped the Wildcats to a small school state baseball crown as a senior.